“Arias with a Twist”

Arias with a Twist
REDCAT Theatre



Arias with a Twist, the hugely wacky counter-culture off-Broadway hit now making its local debut in a much-heralded and continuously sold out run at the Redcat, begins with a sinisterly whispered recorded announcement warning patrons to refrain from flash photography, as it may cause “residual emotions.”

From there, before the initial appearance of the show’s co-creator and world-renowned drag chanteuse Joey Arias, who is reverently referred to in the announcement as the Z beyond the XY chromosome, the sparkly burlesque show curtain slowly, almost painfully opens to the strains of a scratchy soundtrack somewhat resembling the theme from I Love Lucy.

Behind that curtain… is another curtain. Behind that curtain, is yet another one. Behind that, finally, is the four-piece Dream Music Orchestra, four ridiculously detailed half-life-sized puppet musicians designed by the show’s inspired director, designer and co-creator Basil Twist. These inanimate characters possess smirking, goofy but authentically human visages, yet not Barbie-Ken faces by any means. Instead, the Dream Music bandmembers look like a quartet of crusty old upper-eastside New Yorkers one might see reading the Racing Form while riding the Stillwell Avenue subway to Coney Island and the fascination—and creepiness factor—is instantaneous.

After an overture which could have been lifted from a Flash Gordon-Buster Crabbe serial, a floating paper mache flying saucer gives way to a group of puppet aliens standing around the supine Arias, strapped to a wildly-spinning gurney and being probed by tubes and flashing lights. Arias, dressed in a bizarre black Bettie Page bra and panty ensemble over a flesh-colored stuffed undergarment to create his female form below, opens his Vampira-kohled eyes and quietly asks, “Where is my purse?”


Arias with a Twist is mad, hilariously off-color, and uniquely entertaining at every turn, especially when Arias is dumped in a tropical forest filled with huge cloth leaves and blossoms described by our poor dear abductee as “velvety… and so corduroy!”

Starving after such a horrifying ordeal, Arias then licks a glittery mushroom and descends into a hallucinogenic fantasy to rival any, complete with Daniel Brodie’s incredible geometric designs worthy of the Whisky’s walls in 1969 and the show’s six puppeteers, moving behind their bizarre star attraction camouflaged in black, becoming oversized serpents and turning him into a Hindu goddess right before our eyes—all as he sings a medley of Beatles songs beginning with, of course, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Arias, who sounds a little like Marlene Dietrich with a bad cold doing The Yoko Ono Songbook, is singularly amazing throughout this magical, unbelievably screwball entertainment. With costumes designed by Chris March under the leadership of Thierry Mugler, for whom Arias has been a major muse for well over two decades, this is surely one of the most ridiculously imaginative and genuinely hilarious offerings we Angelenos have been treated to in a long time.


For native New Yorkers, it is a special treat, especially when Arias becomes Allison Hayes in 1958’s The Attack of the 50-Foot Woman to recreate his own return home to the Big Apple after several years as the star of Zumanity in Las Vegas, soon horrifying a twinkling cardboard Manhattan skyline, terrorizing taxi cabs and eating screaming riders from subway cars like raisins from a box (“Um, yum, I love Puerto Ricans!”), all accompanied by huge sonic booms with every footfall. Looking around the diminished city around him, Arias asks incredulously, “Whole Foods? What the fuck happened to CBGB’s?”

Arias is like no other performer, someone who can even floss elegantly or go down on huge-dicked devil puppets with delicacy and a true sense of style. Beyond that, his vocals are astounding, heading often into Yma Sumac ranges, and his knack for outrageous comedy that so easily includes his audience in on the joke is world-class and forever tongue-in-cheek. Coupled with the genius of Basil Twist, Arias with a Twist provides a match made in some deliciously twisted—and surely more interesting than any traditional—idea of performance art heaven.


Arias with a Twist plays through Dec. 13 at REDCAT in the Disney Hall, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles; for tickets, call 213.237.2800 or log on at www.redcat.org.

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com